Part of the "Inland Empire" east of Los Angeles proper, Riverside is another piece of Southern California's urban sprawl, yet far enough out of Los Angeles to feel detached from the city. Vaguely Spanish-style roofs stretch toward all horizons, threatening to landscape the desert with smog and other decidedly urban concerns. Still, despite the sprawl, the area has several noteworthy attractions. Phone 951-222-4700. http://www.riversidecvb.com.
Riverside is best known for its culturally rich downtown district, including the historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa, host to countless 20th-century luminaries, from the Carnegies, Fords and Rockefellers to Amelia Earhart and Humphrey Bogart. Presidential couples Richard and Pat Nixon, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan were both married at this national historic site. http://www.missioninn.com.
Riverside is perhaps most famous as home of the parent tree for much of the world's supply of Washington navel seedless oranges, named for their characteristic belly button. The city's citrus-growing heritage is remembered by the intriguing Heritage House (http://www.riversideca.gov/museum/heritagehouse/default.asp), an eclectic 1891 Queen Anne-style Victorian owned by the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. It is one of the most authentic museum houses in California, yielding a rare glimpse into the comfortable lives of early orange growers. For more Victoriana, tour nearby Redlands, which boasts more than 300 citrus-era mansions, including the Kimberly Crest House and Gardens and the Morey Mansion, both open to the public for viewing.
Southeast of Riverside, in Perris, is the Orange Empire Railway Museum, which has a vast collection of vintage streetcars and rail cars. Plan to visit on weekends, when several of the cars are put into operation, providing unlimited rides for a single fee. Phone 951-943-3020. http://www.oerm.org.
Northwest of Riverside on the border of Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire is the small college town of Claremont. Its downtown "village" is a small haven of restaurants, boutiques and performance spaces. One of the more popular live music venues is the Folk Music Center, owned by musician Ben Harper (http://folkmusiccenter.com). He also hosts the Claremont Folk Festival held annually at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in late May. Phone 909-624-1681. http://discoverclaremont.com.
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